Archive for July, 2014

Commanding views of Bruges

Hello there!

Hanging on with me here? Good good. Been a bit of a stifling couple of weeks weather wise here. On a couple of occasions my father and I have remarked this has been the hottest period we have experienced since moving here. No wind either. I don’t mind a breeze when it’s warm. Last week, sailing was painful. There was no wind. I jest not…in some instances we were moving backwards with the tide. In sailing overalls, no wind and 20 odd degrees with no shade life is not funny. Hopefully the next session will be kinder, looks as such at this moment in time anyhow.

Anyway, on to the pics. Well, at this stage, I had just arrived at my central Bruges hotel, in the pouring rain, so I felt right at home. I can’t swear to the name of the hotel at this point in time but it was very central and a good choice by me as it was walking distance to…..everything. So, welcome to Bruges, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

As is tradition when I am on hols, the first day is pretty much a write off as I’m wandering, getting my bearings. However, as it was still chucking it down in the morning after my very pleasant continental breakfast (people watching trying to guess the nationality of those who enter the breakfast bar is a free bonus) I didn’t venture far and decided to take cover by visiting “The Belfry” or “Belfort” which was just over from my lodgings.

The Belfry or Belfort in the Markt, Bruges

The Belfry or Belfort in the Markt, Bruges

Not just a bell tower anymore, there is a large cobbled courtyard which plays host to amateur dramatics and the like…when it’s dry! In the past, the building held records and even treasure in the old days, hence to massive chests in the museum which I failed to get a decent image of. Pffft. In total The Belfry is 83 m (about 250 ft) tall and it is said that, due to its 13th century age and depending on conditions, it can lean as much as 1 m (3 ft) to the east. I didn’t know this at the time of climbing, I might add.

The cobbled courtyard below the Belfry, as I sheltered from the rain

The cobbled courtyard below the Belfry, as I sheltered from the rain

The most notable feature, save the view, of this massive building is that, at the top, there is a 47 bell carillon (or glockenspiel, if you understand German) which is a percussion instrument that is played via a keyboard connected to the bells by, in Bruges, a full-time paid carilloneur. Apparently, this gent gives free concerts quite regularly but I must have missed them, although there was the odd peal now and again. Maybe he was on holidays. In the days gone past, the bells were fewer in number and used for all sorts of things, such as fire alarms, marking working hours and notable religious occasions. Now they are mainly for entertainment.

The bells, the bells! Well, a few of the older worn ones.

The bells, the bells! Well, a few of the older worn ones.

It’s quite climb, I can tell you. All I could think as I went up was “this camera bag is big” and “man alive, these guys back then were tiny”. I’m quite slim and I had to duck and breathe in quite regularly. In total there are 366 of these type of steps to get to the top. Once I was three-quarters up, I realised why there was a sign at the bottom dissuading those of a weak constitution from going up!

I paid my 5 Euros so I was going to get there....puff puff

I paid my 5 Euros so I was going to get there….puff puff

Once at the top, I found out what a carillon looked like. You will excuse the reflection and such, I didn’t have my tripod so had to bounce the flash off this darn screen at an angle and space was pretty limited. Here you can see the drums attached to the keyboard mechanisms and that play automatic tunes on occasions. Apparently, the 47 bells atop the Belfry weigh a sobering 27 tonnes. Sobering because you look right up into them after the climb! That’d be a headache if copped one of those on the noggin!

Don't know what a carillon is? This is a carillon. Pretty impressive huh?

Don’t know what a carillon is? This is a carillon. Pretty impressive huh?

But, that aside, what a view! The rain had cleared but the visibility was still a bit rubbish. Apologies also for not noting which direction I am looking for those nerdy types, but I will point out some features in the pictures instead.

In this view, you can see Saint Salvators Cathedral, apparently one of the very few buildings in Bruges not to be damaged in fires and such; all renovations and changes were carried out as planned work. In the distance just past the cathedral, there are a few modern buildings and nearer the camera, a straight north/south cobbled street with old buildings, now mainly shops and small museums.

Got to the top! The view was pretty spectacular....

Got to the top! The view was pretty spectacular….

This next picture is centred mainly on the City Hall, in the Burg square. Hidden from view is a Basilica that I took more detailed pictures of later on in the holiday. To the right of the square, you can see the canal that lends Bruges the nickname “Venice of the North”. Yes, I did have a ride in a barge. Man, those guys got skills…you should have seen the gaps they got through!

Of course, many years ago, this route wasn’t a tourist trip in a barge, it was a serious port connected to the North Sea and the canals were buzzing with spice traders and such in the 12th to 15th centuries, known here as “The Golden Age”. However, this still exists today of sorts, in the form of the port of Zeebrugge some miles away (literally, in Flemish, Bruges on the sea) which is a major route in shipping since being revived by the German Navy in World War One. The canals are still there but too small for anything but tourist cruises.

A view down towards City Hall and the canals

A view down towards City Hall and the canals

Now a view of The Church of Our Lady, dating back to the 13th century. It’s a record breaker, this one, as it’s 122 m (400 ft) tall and made entirely of brick, making it the second tallest brick building in the world. I know that some aspects of medieval life were a bit grim but you have got to hand to them, they knew how to build an imposing structure! Respect.

In retrospect, Bruges is very lucky never to had earthquakes with all this brick around

In retrospect, Bruges is very lucky never to had earthquakes with all this brick around

Lastly, a view of the stones set on top of the octagon at the top of the Belfry showing distance to major cities around. Alas, the one where London was marked was hidden behind some screening, so Paris was as close as I could get. I can only presume the measurement is in kilometres like those weird foreigners seem to do everything. However, I don’t know if this takes into account the few feet of lean in the tower!!

Ah, gay Paris, 270 km...the other stop that trains on the line I came over on stop at

Ah, gay Paris, 270 km…the other stop that trains on the line I came over on stop at

Well, there’s the first instalment. More to come and more in-depth photos from the ground this time! There is much to be said for Europe in the way of history…who needs these all inclusive beach holidays in hot, sticky destinations where some urchin pinches your cash when you venture out of the resort? Culture, that’s what you want. And Flemish farmers stew with beer made by monks, which is gorgeous.

Well, it’ll be a couple of weeks until the next update, but keep tuned for more Flemish history, sights and landscapes. See you soon.

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Not quite Belgium…but I’m getting there

Hello All

What a foul evening. Windblown drizzle and grey murk abound (by the way, a very low uniform cloud deck sometimes is referred to as a nimbus deck) so I thought I’d keep in touch with my fans.

Last time I did promise that I’d post pictures of me arriving in Belgium but I had to take a slight detour because I thought you might like a Summer lift in the form of some flowers, butterflies (commonly known in this family as “flutterbies”) and some of the natural beauty around my home range. Let’s not stand here and make small talk then, best get posting some pictures.

Firstly, a relic (quite literally) of the by-gone days down on the estuary when the local waterway was used for ferry coal down the estuary. Think of human or wind propelled barges plying their way up and down this stretch. I expect that this keel is from one that became obsolete as someone bought the first truck and decided to load that with bags of black gold to and from Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock. Shame…

The spine of a victim of the internal combustion engine

The spine of a victim of the internal combustion engine

Next a view across the widest part of the estuary. At this point I’d usually say that “in the distance you can see…” but on this occasion you can see that the bank is pretty much just woods. In the foreground are some Brant Geese that we commonly see overwintering on the water around this area. As you drive around some early mornings you can see them fly over towards or from feeding grounds. Lovely to look at but are they noisy?! More honking than a drunken clown convention let loose amongst a showroom of hand honkers!

Suddenly, geese!

Suddenly, geese!

Next, a mildly atmospheric shot across the water towards the wood with an emphasis on the smattering of pleasure craft that litter the deep channel. As you walk around the “pill” or spit of land you almost have to step over the abandoned hulks of boats on the shore. Some are old and it’s obvious that people are no longer using them but others are very large and you do wonder about the stories behind them. I can only presume the poles are an aid to navigation as they seem to be on the edge of a channel.

The view from the pill across the estuary

The view from the pill across the estuary

Next, well, you knew I wouldn’t be able to post a blog without including a sunset but I hope that this pleases those couple of people who requested I don’t stop posting the cloud images completely. Quite a humdinger this one and the cloud deck looked as though you could reach up and cut a slice out of it. No amendment of this image by the way, save for a slight change in shutter speed to increase contrast.

Ooooooh. You know you want to ask for a copy of this don't you?! Go on, leave a comment asking for one!!

Ooooooh. You know you want to ask for a copy of this don’t you?! Go on, leave a comment asking for one!!

Next, some flutterbies. This year has been very sparse with the poor little things. My Dad presumes that they were all killed off by the ridiculous amount of rain we had in the early part of the year, about 5 weeks in all. However, having said this, we all live in hope of an increase of bugs and Dad bough some little bug houses to pop next to some climbing plants we have in the garden. After all, “build it and they will come”.

Firstly, a Cabbage White….

Nom nom, nectar...

Nom nom, nectar…

….next, a Red Admiral….

My favourite image of the three, even though ever so slightly off focus

My favourite image of the three, even though ever so slightly off focus

…finally, a Small Tortoiseshell.

What wonderfully delicate creatures these little things are!

What wonderfully delicate creatures these little things are!

All these little critters were snapped on or near a Budlea plant which apparently a favourite of many insects. They were massing on it last year along with bees and such. I only got a few pictures as they don’t half fidget!

Just around the corner from this spot there is a Clematis that had lost the orange trumpet flowers and had moved on to furry seed pod type things. I must admit I failed Biology at school so my knowledge of this kind of things is lacking, I was more interested in the fact that in the morning dew this looked as thought it could be mistaken for a crystal chandelier. Gorgeous!

This could almost be a diamond pendant

This could almost be a diamond pendant

Where’s this “nearly Belgium” I hear you ask? Well, here it comes, or at least my first stop, being London St Pancras railway station. That’s right, I went to Belgium by train. This is for two main reasons; firstly, have you ever been to Cardiff Airport? If you have, you will know what I mean. I shan’t go into detail, lest I am sued for libel by the Welsh government, but the word “shocking” springs to mind. Maybe I was spoilt when I lived in Sussex as we lived very close to Gatwick but still, Cardiff airport, pffft. Secondly, I am anxious of flying. This added up to me thinking around the problem and concluding that the Chunnel was the way to go.

Jumping ahead a few days from here, I was most pleasantly surprised by every aspect of this service. Yes, it takes longer but it’s a journey, not a chore. There we no queues, no baggage limits, no lengthy waiting, no crappy shops, you could take any amount of liquid there and back you fancy, no invasive searches, a choice of decent food which was reasonably priced, big comfy seats, a massive window…what’s not to like? I worked out my fare to Brussels after too and it was cheaper than the equivalent air fare. There was also something fascinating about standing in the cafe car looking out the window on the train whilst travelling around 250 kmh through France!

Anyway, I digress. Ironically, as I step on to the platform, what should I see? Clouds! Well, a piece of art showing clouds called “Cloud:Meteoros” by Lucy Orta. I must admit, it was difficult to work it out (I think the statues on top are travellers with bags and such) but I liked it. Me want.

A sign that I need to keep chasing clouds?

A sign that I need to keep chasing clouds?

My carriage awaits. Quite a monster isn’t it? I think the only security aspect that was noticeable here is that there is a rather large and solid screen around the train so you can’t interfere with or throw yourself at it. What I couldn’t get over is the fact that they arrive silently. I’m not kidding, this one appeared and I didn’t even notice! The areas to the left isn’t for boarding if you thought that…oh no, that’s a champagne bar. Don’t even ask the prices. I looked and nearly had a seizure. In fact, the pain inflicted on my wallet by just looking was so great that my brain has blocked the figures out.

Unusually, this whole place is quite aesthetically pleasing too

Unusually for a rail station, this whole place is quite aesthetically pleasing too

And finally, another piece of art I liked the look of, a 30 foot statue called “The Meeting Place”. Apparently this is meant to evoke the romance of train travel to the passing passengers. Looks like a massive lump of bronze (20 tons apparently) to me but I don’t hate it, I just would opt for the cloud installation myself!

Now THAT'S a statue!

Now THAT’S a statue!

Well there we are. I am on my way. well, at this point in the photos I was on my way, crawling through London and the south-east of England at what must be just over idle in these trains. Brussels and then Bruges awaited, dark, cold and wet unfortunately, but weather doesn’t stop me when I am on hols and I was prepared with every kind of coat you can imagine!

Next time, a quick whistle-stop tour around a few local sights near the hotel in Bruges. See you then, cheers for popping in!

Ta-ra!

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The last atmospheric post for a while…honest

Hello All

Firstly, thanks to the comments I have received of late from a certain few regulars. Small but encouraging. Thanks. Also, much appreciate those recent new followers. I now have 39. Does anyone looking fancy making it a nice round 40?!

Additionally, I have now found the need to create a Photobox account as I was approached by a colleague for a print of a photograph I was displaying at work (thanks to my bosses for that). So, again…it’s now nice and easy to digitally send an image to them and create it in whichever format you want; I shan’t ask too much over the cost of the item (alas, I am not made of money and need to eat) but I will charge a percentage as I did in this last case. What not browse the archives and see what you like or ask me for a theme?

Have a think about it. Which is more than I can do at the moment as we have had a rash of Eurofighters flying over us of late using the target range near Castlemartin. They might be very high, but when they climb on full power under the cloud and rain we have here now it sounds like they’re idling in the garden!

Oooh, I have just realised that there is a tenuous link to the first images I am posting. Super! The link is that the phenomena are both from contrails. Firstly, a contrail shadow. I made the image a bit obvious as to how these are caused..in this instance it is simply that the sun is at such a height from the horizon that the contrail is above and is casting a shadow on the higher cloud…

Slightly darkened to show contrast, a contrail shadow

Slightly darkened to show contrast, a contrail shadow

Secondly, another form of contrail shadow in a way. In this case the sun was right “on the nose” of the contrail, neither above or below and cast a shadow which, essentially, goes as far as the eye can see until the curvature of the earth eradicates it. The short way to describe it is the exact opposite point to the sun. Alas, my lens is not wide enough to capture a decent image but you get the idea…

Okay, so it's not spectacular, but when was the last time you saw a shadew this long?

Okay, so it’s not spectacular, but when was the last time you saw a shadew this long?

Can you feel your brains expanding with useless pub quiz knowledge? Eeeeexcellent. Next is something that you may have experienced through polarized sunglasses when glancing at clouds covering the sun or even seen in the same instance as this. Iridescence. Mr Wikipedia says that the explanation for this occasion is the presence of microscopic structures interfering with the light moving through this (frankly messy) spiders web….

This spider is either confused or rebuilding...that web is a mess!

This spider is either confused or rebuilding…that web is a mess!

Next, an older image that some of my Ceredigion readers may appreciate from a day when I was out in the hills from a blue sky filled with fair weather cloud to a weird, gloopy sunset I can’t really explain.

It’s nice to drive up into the hills now and again and you don’t have to travel too far off the road to experience a beautiful view of a classic shallow glacial gouge (I think) that has existed for many decades.

A view towards Cardigan from the Preseli Hills in old style B & W

A view towards Cardigan from the Preseli Hills in old style B & W

Upon my return, things had got a bit dull and dreary but once I had got in, I was noticing that there was a bit Asperatus around. Remember this? Although they can make the sky look dark and threatening, but they don’t always appear with or near rain, although I would say I have experienced that this is the case in about 3/4 of the time I have seen these clouds….

A deck of Asperatus. Might be rain again.

A deck of Asperatus. Might be rain again.

During the evening, things got a little darker and I had to lighten this image to make it viewable. For some reason I had fiddled with the exposure setting on my camera that meant it wasn’t easy to view on the PC.

Okay, this Asperatus means business. But wait...is it breaking up?

Okay, this Asperatus means business. But wait…is it breaking up?

However, after a few hours, things inexplicably cleared and presented me with a long-range view of a very strange sunset. Bear in mind it wasn’t quite this orange when I saw it (this is at full zoom and cropped) but what is that cloud?? Looks for all the world to be the son of Pileus, Asperatus and Lenticular. However, to the west I am fairly sure there’s nothing for Lenticular clouds to form over….unless this was just a freak?

I am still unsure as to this cloud but I am glad I saw it, as I haven't seen it since. Want a copy? I have plenty of images of this sunset!

I am still unsure as to this cloud but I am glad I saw it, as I haven’t seen it since. Want a copy? I have plenty of images of this sunset!

Let me know what you think if you fancy throwing your hat in the ring.

Ah yes, I nearly forgot. It’s that time again with regards the Weathernet calendar and the competition is open to hobby photographers such as myself. I have managed to put together around 20 images I think that are half decent. I believe that my father is going to view them with his independent eye and say whether they are worth submitting so…wish me luck!

Thanks for stopping by, see you all soon. We are on to images of Belgium next, I promise. However, I will freely admit I will be splicing in some sunsets from before I went for colour as it rained a lot when I was there! Taa-raa.

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